Variations on a Primitive Tumor

October, soon ending, is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I typically ignore it, which seems to be a bit wrong. At last week’s high school reunion, we spent some time remembering those who were no longer among us. One of those was a friend from high school who died from cancer two years ago. In case you don’t know it for yourself yet, it is possible to lose touch with people these days; not everyone is on social media. I regretted not knowing that George was ill. Regret is in its own column, of course; you already know that.

So, yes, I’ve had cancer. I’ve had other friends lose that battle. Others who survived but still fight the pain. Some still struggling. I will confess that I didn’t take my diagnosis to be hard. When a nurse last year said, “Oh, I see you had the bad kind,” I responded, “Oh. I didn’t know.” So this was not my dark- night-of-the soul moment. Surgery was nothing much, nor radiation, but chemo was no picnic. I appreciate the women I know who had chemo on Friday so they could be back teaching on Monday. Amazing, in a word.

The title of the poem below comes from my mother. She had lung cancer. When the doctor (whose credentials she asked for and got: Harvard Medical School, acceptable) told her she had a primitive tumor, she was a little offended that it was not…what? sophisticated? You had to know her, I guess, to appreciate that point of view. So the dedication is to some of the women I’ve known who have both battled and lost cancer.

For those of you who don’t like to think about cancer, let me remind you that it doesn’t care. Molly Ivins, an iconic Texas writer popular for her skewering of politicians, died of breast cancer at age 62. That seems so young now. Her father had killed himself after hearing a cancer diagnosis. She fought, and she encouraged others with “Get.The.Damn.Test.” I don’t curse, ever, at all, but I’m not sure it isn’t warranted here. Perhaps coincidentally, a member of our graduating class knew Molly Ivins and worked with her. Yes, get the test. Take care that you don’t have to know cancer. Or if you do, that they catch it early. I look at the place where my eyebrows should be every day. Lately, I’ve learned I have a slight bit of kidney disease, caused by the chemo. On we go.

As opposed to the last lines of the poem, I do know. It’s a way of helping others—to know—in the final analysis. A young friend just coming out of treatment asked recently, “How do you live with the thought that the cancer will recur?” I’m not too clever, so I responded, “You live with the thought that the cancer will recur.” Much more moving things can be said, and I hope you will read them if you need them. This is what I have. I do hope I don’t have more, later.


Cancer is dumb.

Cancer is so stupid.

It kills that which gives it life.

Cancer is not like the flu.

No, I have had the flu.

It jumps from person to person

So never dies.

Cancer does not jump.  Cancer stays.


My three friends know cancer now.

Rebecca had leukemia.

Rebecca was brave.

She fought cancer.

She fought very hard.

Then she said, “I cannot fight


Then Rebecca died.


Linsey had a tumor.

Radiation, the tight fire,

Made the tumor shrink.

But it did not kill all the cancer.

Linsey takes strong medicine.

She is very brave to swallow poison.

Her voice is dry and she clears her throat.

Her hands are too weak to write.

Linsey will fight.

Lindsey will live.


Kim had a lump.

She knew it was cancer.

The doctor took it off, out.

But the cancer came back.

Kim was strong and brave.

She took strong medicine.

She tried to let the marrow of her bones

Heal her if it could.

She stayed alone and waited.

Kim fought but she did not win.


I do not want cancer.

I do not know if I am brave.

I do not know if I am strong.

Linsey is fighting.

Kim tried hard.

Rebecca tried for a long time.

Rebecca is resting now.

And Kim.

I wonder if I would try.

I am smart.  I am very smart.

But I do not know if I am as smart

As cancer is so very dumb.

I do not want cancer.

I do not not not not want to know.


To L.T., B. O., and E. H.



Notes on Leadership and Class Reunions

Last week, I had the opportunity to go to a UIL marching band competition with a friend to watch the group including her son and daughter. It was held in a stadium I went to for the better part of ten years, many Fridays in the fall. All our sons marched; the youngest was a drum major his senior year. When I wrote about “kids these days” last week, we could include band kids these days. My friend’s children were marching about 8:45 in the evening but had to be up at 3 a.m. to catch the bus for Waco the next day to march in that completion. All the while memorizing music, remembering their marching patterns, and keeping up their grades. Complexity deluxe. Back in the day, yes, we learned a new routine every other week, but the music was simpler marches—not Shostakovich and Puccini—and the routines themselves didn’t involve anything but 8 steps to 5 yards. These kids go backwards and slide, sway and cross-step. I still have nightmares about getting lost.

Leaving the stadium, says I, “This looks like a shortcut.” So off we go through a side door. Soon, a woman calls out, “You look smart. I’ll follow you.” Thirty yards later we were all at a dead end and had to turn around and retrace our steps. I say “all” because we looked behind and a dozen people were following us. What could we say? Sorry sounds insufficient. My friend made some blonde jokes because we are. I couldn’t understand why the first woman thought we were smart having only seen the backs of our heads. In the best of times, I have to tell people I’m smart because they won’t be able to figure it out on their own.

This leads me to the 50th high school reunion I attended last weekend with a friend. A man there had been in many of my classes beginning in the third grade. No one else there had known me as long. Introducing me to his wife (he’s 6’6” and she is 6’5”—impressive), he said, “Oh, this girl! She has an IQ so high it’d make water boil!” He repeated it for effect. Obviously, he had mistaken me for someone else. (I can see your eyes rolling out there.) Others said I looked just like I did in high school, hadn’t changed a bit. So, among the blind and the liars, on we went.

What struck me as particularly interesting, however, was that we had elected class officers all those decades ago, and they were still functioning. Our president was gracious and tender, as she was. Another leader welcomed us with dignity and sincerity, like he did when he was asked to give a brief memorial as a teenager regarding a deceased classmate. A shy woman—then and now—eulogized a man we knew as a young poet and writer who died of AIDS some years ago. It would have been difficult to do, but she did it beautifully. Others in the class handled decorations (not as easy as you’d think) and food and venue arrangements, making all those decisions we don’t even think about. It’s a duty, perhaps, that we never think about.

First lesson: Go to your reunion. At least once. You will be surprised to meet people you haven’t seen in decades and learn where they’ve been and what they’ve done. One of us met Mother Teresa. Another does animation and has been nominated for an Emmy. Still another has worked in two presidential administrations. One has practiced both law and medicine. Someone has done a lot of work to get these people together for your enjoyment. Go.

Second lesson: Decisions you make early on in life can determine your path to a point. Choosing leaders is one of those decisions. Politics aside—far aside—people usually make good decisions. All the mechanics are likely more intuitive than obvious. Commitment is among the attributes that perhaps can be sensed. Leadership must keep as its goal the benefit of those being served.

Third lesson: You already know this one. Life is precious and fast. Do better about holding on to friends. One woman as we were leaving wondered how many more of us would be gone the next time. No telling. If everything changes us, then this sweet experience full of words and hugs will help us all be better people, before we get our moment of silence.

Kids These Days: The Ethics of Having Children

Kids These Days: The Ethics of Having Children

When Juror #3 in 12 Angry Men goes on his rant about disrespectful children, he says he used to call his father “Sir” and asks the question, “Do you ever hear a kid call his father that anymore?” As we see this man as the last remaining guilty vote, something deeper comes into play: It is his relationship with his own son that has influenced his thinking. At the end of the long deliberations, he takes the picture of his boy and tears it angrily, then holds it with regret and ends in tears, whispering: “Not guilty. Not guilty.” It is a tender gesture, then, as Juror #8 helps him put on his jacket. Broken, sad, he has at least done the right thing for the accused boy. He is wrong in his assessment of kids, however. As much as at any time in history, the young hold an important place in world and need to be applauded and honored for their contributions.

An inclination exists to suppose the current state of affairs among the young is in decline. Kate Tempest, a British spoken word artist, performed in Dallas several years ago and then took questions. One brave soul suggested that yes, while she at 29 years old seemed capable and educated and insightful, most people her age were not. She took him to task: “You’re wrong. Young people these days have more to deal with than any other generation. They have more challenges, more fear, but they’re also pushing back more and doing more than anyone else ever has.” It was an electrifying—and surprising–response. Rather than setting herself apart, she put herself in the middle of the controversy.

Kate Tempest might seem unique, but she has outstanding fellow travelers. Recently, a group of middle school girls in Dallas produced a coloring book for immigrants that lists information for 30 area non-profits as well as works from local poets. According to Janet Morrison-Lane, the group’s mentor, “So many people miss out on what teenagers have to offer, so for them to be able to put out something into our city that was solely designed by them is amazing” (qtd. in Manuel). These girls, aged thirteen to fifteen, represent diverse backgrounds. While none is an immigrant herself, some of their parents are. Each brought specific skills to the project with the hope of helping someone else in need.

The counterargument to the value of kids could take many forms. Perhaps the most extreme would be not having children at all. This is a choice in 2019, whereas a hundred years ago it was not. This passage articulates the difficulties of making this choice:

Decision making is deeply influenced by an individual’s emotions,         attachments, personal habits, and society’s customs and norms. These are not minor psychological influences that might be eliminated by adopting a more “rational” decision-making procedure. These are fundamental facts about human nature, and hence constitutive of us as human beings and, by extension, moral agents. An acceptable and useful ethical theory must take account of these realities and must not substitute a simple, mechanical decision-making procedure for the rich – if sometimes messy – psychological complexity of real human agency. (Cook 1617)

Through the millennia, people have sometimes wanted children, often had them regardless of wanting them, and had many reasons for their choice: The deep biological urge to procreate versus a potential grandmother’s begging, for example. Although it is not new, a current term, “antinatalism,” has been applied to the movement. This group suggests that life if not worth the pain, that bringing children into the world is a cruel act. One twenty-something plans to sue his parents for birthing him without his consent: “Why should I suffer? Why must I be stuck in traffic? Why must I work? Why must I face wars? Why must I feel pain or depression? Why should I do anything when I don’t want to? Many questions. One answer…Someone had you for their ‘pleasure'” (Papazoglou). In other words, give me money for being.

When we think of Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” discussion, the reference has always been to the question of continuing life rather than ending it. Now, the idea of not even beginning life has come into the mix: Is life worth living? The answer is a resounding yes. The universe is slated for destruction—or at least entropy, but perhaps not for eons, billions upon billions of years. Until that time, life will remain a struggle. However, it may be difficult by design. While humans will always exist with various states of need and suffering, others will enter the world with a willingness to help them. Few people sue their parents; many more honor them and relish life. We cannot imagine, easily, what non-existence might be. We can, however, remember Frank Capra’s classic film It’s a Wonderful Life and understand that our choices change the world around us. Kids these days, or any days? Yes, we will need them forever; it is the right thing to do.

Works Cited

Cook, Thomas, et al. “Respect for Patient Autonomy as a Medical Virtue.” Cardiology in the Young, vol.

25, no. 8, Dec. 2015, pp. 1615–1620. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1017/S1047951115002097.

Manuel, Obed. “These Dallas Kids Designed a Coloring Guidebook for Immigrants, Refugees New to the City.” Dallas News, 8 Oct. 2019,

Murphy, Timothy F. “What Justifies a Future with Humans in It?” Bioethics, vol. 30, no. 9, Nov. 2016, pp.   751–758. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/bioe.12290.

Papazoglou, Alexis. “Is It Cruel to Have Kids in the Era of Climate Change?” Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2019. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints Accessed 10 Oct. 2019.

Tempest, Kate. Lecture. Dallas Museum of Art, 13 May 2016.

Lumet, Sidney. 12 Angry Men. Amazon, MGM Home Entertainment, 2008,



Loitering with Intent

Yes, it’s a real thing: The Parliament of 1891 passed a law not just forbidding loitering but also targeting an unsavory group of people who might do something, well, unsavory: not just unlicensed salesmen but also palm readers, not just obscenity mongers but also fraudulent charity gatherers. “And others besides.” It’s also the title of a novel by Muriel Spark, more famous for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and a reportedly bad film with Marisa Tomei who was great in My Cousin Vinny. I heard the phrase first on a podcast from BYU’s Maxwell Institute featuring a Church of England priest and professor, Dr. Andrew Teal. It was a short episode, rather British, and quite lovely. But back to the movie. It seems to me there was a bit too much loitering, if not quite panhandling, and without much more than sleight-of-hand emotionally in a long-awaited small-to-large screen event.

For all its joys, the Downton Abbey portrayed in the recent movie takes us among those loitering with intent, and the result does not exult. Reviews have agreed. Michael O’Sullivan at The Washington Post calls the movie “an overstuffed guilty pleasure” and “eye and ear candy of the highest order: rich and delicious, but not especially nutritious. Zingers but not terribly clever. Ryan Vogt, writing more recently also at TWP, tries a little harder. He chides the very moral order of the Abbey, wondering why the staff’s shenanigans have declined into disobedience following six seasons of a higher moral order. He recounts all the bad ends of the bad apples from the series and reminds us that good triumphs, eventually. The badness really was bad in the past: not just a banged up water heater but a soap sliver on a bathroom floor that caused a miscarriage; not just some stolen trinkets but schemed-out engagement breaking; not just an elderly woman announcing her impending death but the totally unexpected deaths of a young mother in childbirth and a new father in a car accident in final season episode. (Frankly, I was so stunned and upset by that last example that I vowed to boycott the series, which I succeeded in doing until the next season came out.)

Everyone generally loved the movie. RottenTomatoes has it at 85% with audience approval at 95%. Few movies get that positive a response. And yet, I was disappointed. One does get caught up in the plot, which takes many turns. Our dear Tom thinks he is being followed by a government agent because of his Republican (as in Irish; don’t get excited) views. He foils an assassination plot, of course. The staff—stunned that they don’t get to cook and serve their Majesties—have their own plot which involves locking the invading staff in their rooms and dosing the presumptuous French chef with a sleeping potion. Many other twists as well. All in all, no stiff upper lip here. Just accomplished bliss.

I’ll not comment on the obviously PC gay-themed dust-up of a previous schemer and general curmudgeon, Barrow the butler, other than to say we are somehow expected to forget that we knew he was gay and that it had already been an issue in the past. And a settled one at that.

My complaint involves a feeling that, if this is to be a fairy tale, then there ought to be some magic. Tom looks like he will find love, but there is a bit of taint in that the Dowager Countess is somehow involved. There’s money to be had, you see, and she is keen for it to stay in the family, which it will once her cousin dies and her maid/daughter inherits. A little too smooth. Our Cinderella is but a pawn, though her mother/employer plans to elevate her station to companion though the truth of her birth will not come out. Big of her, we’d say in Texas.

The bottom line, of course, is whether I will see it again. I’ll give it a maybe. Tom Branson (Allen Leech) is quite nice to look at. The women’s clothes are stunningly beautiful. When the dress for Lady Edith arrives in a mistaken tent-size, we know it will be ready in time, though I think it could have been more special for all that effort. Just as we know Lady Mary’s husband will arrive in time for the festivities. Indeed, it is quite nice to see so many happy people, the good ones finally having good marriages and darling children. We will hope that the next film (yes, please, let there be one!) comes off better. No loitering allowed.